Women are not breasts

Holly MayerA few months ago, my mother told me how she found out that her mother had breast cancer. She was out on the lake with her mother one weekend when her mother came to visit. Claiming she felt ill, she excused herself to go back to the car while my mother and her then-husband took a canoe out on the lake.

My mom’s intuition told her something was not right, so she turned back early to check on her mother. What happened when she approached the car changed her life (and mine when I heard the story) forever. Sitting in the back seat of the car was her mother, changing the blood soaked bandages that were wrapped around her chest. Bloody, rotten flesh had taken the place on her chest where her breasts used to be. She was dying from the cancer at this point.

After hearing this story, I hope people start to realize that we are approaching breast cancer all wrong. While I am on board with research foundations raising awareness of the disease, I am not on board on some of the tactics used.

According to cancer.org there are about 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women this year alone. Of the women diagnosed, 39,620 will die from the disease. To put it simply, there is a 1 in 8 chance of a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. These are the unsettling facts that women have to come to grips with.

With these fact in hand, research companies are desperately trying to raise awareness about an illness that used to be taboo to discuss. However, now it has gone too far. The research companies are overcompensating for the “silent illness” by marketing breast cancer in a sexualized way.

What do I mean by this? How many of you have seen an “I Love Boobies” bracelet manufactured by keep-a-breast.org? While the message is trying to convey awareness and self-check exams, what is really happening is a marketing tactic created to target teenagers or anyone who wants to have an excuse to have “boobies” stamped around their wrist.

Or how about those Facebook ads? Girls dressed in bikinis on the front with cleavage as high as their chin promoting some sort of party that have the proceeds go to cancer research. I am sure those images really make women who have had mastectomies and lumpectomies feel really good.

And what about the men who are diagnosed with the disease as well? Although it is much rarer for men to be diagnosed with breast cancer (1 in 1,000 to be exact), their experiences with the disease needs to be recognized as well. And with the “Pinking of America,” as it has begun to be called, men are being washed out by pastel pink and cute breast slogans. While I wish otherwise, we are not quite to a point where men feel comfortable being seen in a feminized manner in our culture.

As people, we need to realize that the whole “sex sells” model should have limitations. I have a hard time understanding how chemo and radiation treatments are sexy. As my aunt put it, “When I tell people that I have breast cancer, instead of looking me in the eye and sharing their condolences, their eyes go directly down to my breasts.”

Unfortunately, women have been objectified for years and we have accepted this trend to even be applied to disease. Where are all the men in thongs dancing about in commercials raising awareness for testicular cancer? I guess “I Love Balls” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

So what if the cancer is in the breast? We are the only species that have turned breasts into sexual objects. As we would find it absurd to find cows fondling each other’s utters, I find it equally absurd to see women whose lives are being turned upside down, minimized to their breasts. Breasts do not, and never will, define femininity.

It is time that we raise awareness of breast cancer (or any cancer) by doing just that. Be aware of your health and be aware of your resources. We also need to be aware of the people suffering from this disease. Be aware of their emotions and their well being. The best thing you can do is to be understanding and to listen. Hopefully, one day, we will not need these t-shirts or bracelets and we can live cancer free.